KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) — Jeremy Hefner showed that he can punch out hitters if he gets riled up enough.
Not known as a strikeout pitcher, Hefner struck out the last six Atlanta batters he faced in a five-inning outing marred earlier by two home runs in the New York Mets’ 5-2 win over the Braves on Friday.
“I got mad more than anything,” Hefner said. “I was less than thrilled with my performance before then.”
Juan Francisco hit a leadoff homer in the third inning and Freddie Freeman connected to start the fourth. But after B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla followed Freeman’s blast with singles, Hefner ended the inning with three strikeouts and then fanned the side in the fifth.
Asked when he had struck out six in a row the last time, Hefner said, “High school or maybe college. Is that what I had?”
The Mets have an open spot in their rotation because of the absence of Johan Santana and Hefner will likely fill it. He has a 2.93 ERA this spring and 15 strikeouts with only three walks in 15 1-3 innings.
The 27-year-old pitcher split last season between the majors and Triple-A Buffalo, going 4-7 with a 5.09 ERA in 26 games (13 starts) for the Mets.
So far this spring, Mets manager Terry Collins likes what he has seen.
“He’s throwing the ball very, very well,” Collins said. “A lot of strikes.”
With Santana not ready to start the season, Collins said that Aaron Laffey might also get a look as a potential starter before spring training is over. The left-hander finished up the win over the Braves with 2 2-3 hitless innings.
“We’ve got to find ourselves another insurance (starter),” Collins said. “We need some other guys in the mix.”
Tim Hudson started for the Braves and bounced back from a rough outing against the Miami Marlins on Sunday, when he gave up nine hits and six runs in five innings.
Hudson worked six innings and allowed five hits and two second-inning runs. Lucas Duda hit a leadoff homer and Brandon Hicks delivered a RBI double.
“A little better, but not a lot,” Hudson said. “I’m still not where I want to be with my command. It’s taking a little longer than I would like. I wish I was a little more fine-tuned. But there are still two weeks to go.”
Braves center fielder Upton might not need more preparation time, though. Upton, signed as a free agent over the winter, is hitting .444 (20 for 44) and has 10 hits in 15 at-bats over his past five games. He had a single and double in three trips to the plate against the Mets.
The Mets broke a tie with an unearned run in the eighth and added two runs in the ninth. Andrew Brown and Jamie Hoffmann each drove in a run with a double.
NOTES: Zach Lutz had two hits for the Mets and is batting .355 (11 for 31). … OF Jose Constanza finally joined the Braves after being delayed in the Dominican Republic for nearly a month by visa issues and was thrown out trying to steal as a pinch runner. Constanza is competing with Jordan Schafer for a roster spot. … Mets 2B Daniel Murphy, sidelined by a strained intercostals muscle, saw his first action of the spring, playing a few innings defensively during a minor league game back at Port St. Lucie. … The Mets optioned INF Wilmer Flores and reassigned RHP Carlos Torres and INF Josh Satin to minor league camp. … The Braves optioned 1B Ernesto Mejia to AAA Gwinnett and sent OF Todd Cunningham, C Matt Kennelly and SS Elmer Reyes to minor league camp. Both teams are down to 42 players.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.